NEW DELHI: It was an unprecedented demonstration of India's soft power as tens of thousands across the world, besides millions in India, performed yoga on Sunday to mark the inaugural International Day of Yoga (IDY). A record-breaking nearly 36,000 people, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took part in the main early morning event at Rajpath in the heart of New Delhi.
Yoga was performed at events across the world -- from New York to Trinidad and Tobago, from the Maldives to Australia, from Tel Aviv to Moscow, from on board Indian naval ships to the heights of Siachen glacier, at schools and in innumerable residential localities -- to mark the IDY on June 21.
The mega event at Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard and the surrounding green expanse that connects Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace on Raisina Hill, with the World War I memorial India Gate, was replicated across state capitals, cities, towns and rural areas in the country. Modi described the event as the start of a new era for training the human mind for mind-body balance, peace and harmony.
It marks a new era
Modi, who himself performed the asanas among the crowd of yoga practitioners at Rajpath, said yoga was not only an exercise to make the body flexible but a path for inner development.
"It marks a new era of training of human mind for peace and harmony," said Modi, attired in a full-sleeve loose white shirt and white lowers, with a scarf in the saffron, white and green colours of the Indian flag looped around his neck.
Events were held in the morning hours in 192 countries, organised by the Indian missions and yoga centres.
As the sun rose on the globe, the yoga events began kicking off, with the eastern-most countries sending in their pictures.
India notched two world records on the inaugural IDY at Rajpath -- for the most number of participants in a yoga lesson with 35,985 at Rajpath -- and for the most number of nationalities attending a yoga lesson -- with people from 84 countries participating at Rajpath.
In an address at the United Nations, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the IDY was viewed as a perfect platform to bring the world together in a spirit of unity and harmony.
She said yoga was not a religion and should not be seen as belonging to any particular religion. "It is a science, the science of well-being, the science of integrating body, mind and soul, the science of actualizing our true potential."
Among those doing yoga at Rajpath were US Ambassador Richard Verma, Nepal Ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Afghanistan's Shaida Mohammad Abdali and members of the foreign diplomatic corps and foreign nationals studying in India.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung and Delhi's former top cop Kiran Bedi were among the prominent personalities who joined in doing yoga.
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth were present but did not join.
Remarking at the sea of people, Modi said: "Did anybody ever think that Rajpath can become Yogpath?"
Modi did all the 35 asanas listed in the Common Yoga Protocol performed on Sunday. A group of yoga experts performed the yoga exercises on a stage, beamed to the crowd on around 25 large screens, with instructions in Hindi and English.
Modi is a keen yoga enthusiast on whose proposal the UN last year announced holding of IDY on June 21.
The Rajpath event barely escaped the sharp pre-monsoon showers that drenched the capital soon after the yoga exercise ended at 8 a.m.
As the event got over, the sky became overcast and strong gusts of wind shook the tree branches along the Rajpath boulevard. Droplets of rain fell -- and in 20 minutes, it began pouring.
Strong security arrangements were in place around Rajpath and only those with special invitee cards were allowed in the restricted area.
Over 1,400 women training to join Delhi Police did the yoga asanas as did senior citizens.
Muslims, some wearing the skull cap, took part with enthusiasm despite it being the fasting month of Ramadan. There was 11-year-old Mohd. Aseem from a government school in Vivek Vihar who said he enjoyed doing yoga.
The US envoy said he found the yoga session "excellent".
Burkina Faso envoy Idriss Raoua Ouedraogo, who has been practising yoga for over 27 years and is a teacher, said he was delighted to have been at Rajpath.
Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed Modi. "As a practitioner of yoga, I commend PM @narendramodi for his efforts at the UN," he tweeted.
Indian soldiers did yoga at the Siachen glacier, the world's highest battlefield at 5,400 metres altitude, and in Ladakh and Kargil, besides at all major stations.
The Indian Navy, observing "Yoga across the Oceans", had ships stationed in international waters, from the Mediterranean to the South China Sea, and the crew performed yoga.
Later addressing an international conference on yoga here, Modi asked people to embrace yoga for "highest divine perfection" and to combat greed and violence.
He said that while yoga may have originated in India, it draws energy from the millions who practise it around the world.
Doing yoga regularly helps to reduce greed, violence, cost of healthcare and conflicts within communities and between nations, he said.
The Art of Living said some 50 million people across 132 countries did yoga on Sunday with the spiritual group.